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Best-laid eco-plans fall short in China

great-wall-of-chinaRemember all those grand new eco-cities that were supposed to spring up out of bare earth in China? Yeah … we forgot about them too.

Fortunately, Christina Larson at Yale Environment 360 hasn’t, and she provides a fascinating followup of China’s best-laid green-city plans in “China’s Grand Plans for Eco-Cities Now Lie Abandoned.”

Dongtan, once billed as the future “world’s first eco-city,” is today anything but. Planned to eventually be home to a half-million people, the island “development” near Shanghai is actually less developed now than before, as a one-time visitor centre located there has since closed.

And Huangbaiyu, the green makeover planned for a village in northeast China, has also fizzled. Only a few of the new homes built actually feature the eco-friendly bricks once touted as a hallmark of the development, while some homes are too costly for local farmers to afford. Stranger still, for a so-called eco-community in which few people have cars, some of the new homes were built with attached garages.

What happened? Larson lays some of the blame on a Chinese culture focused more on aspirations than on compliance, but also points a finger at well-intentioned international designers such as Arup, McKinsey & Company and William McDonough (of Cradle to Cradle fame). They wholeheartedly embraced — in fact, helped created — the concept of the new Chinese eco-city without fully understanding the culture or clarifying who would pay for what, she writes.

Oddly, though, this could all end well for China, where officials are coming to realise that starting a city from scratch is probably not as green as improving the ones they already have.

As Wen Bo, a Beijing environmentalist, tells Larson, “Such grand eco-city plans themselves are not eco-friendly.”

1 Comment

  • Alice
    Posted April 8, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Tianjin eco-city, a project between China and Singapore is doing well.
    I guess the cultural affinity helps.
    The turn from grand eco-cities to greening existing cities seems a much more efficient and practical than building a few eco-cities where most people can’t live in.

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